What is The Great Ideas Reading and Discussion Group?
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A topical approach to Dialogue.
Moving from one idea - and the related topics about that idea - to reading and discussing the 103 Great Ideas conceived, authored by Mortimer Adler for the Great Books of the Western World. This approach is the opposite of the traditional reading and discussing of the Great Books. That is, "Great Books" groups use the approach of reading a selection by one great author involving many great ideas. "Great Ideas" groups, conversely, use the approach of reading and discussing, first, a 7-10 page essay from the Syntopicon or The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought by Mortimer Adler of what all the great authors, from ancient to modern times, have had to say about the problems and controversies regarding that one great idea.
The second week, and two weeks later, the group reads and discusses the same idea from the book Great Treasury of Western Thought: A Compendium of Important Statements by the Great Thinkers in Western History (10-20 pages approximately). These are passages by 200 of the most brilliant minds-from biblical times to classical antiquity, from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to modern times. In this approach it is you and your concerns that are to be served, not the books that you read. It is primarily to help you grasp the issues relevant to a particular IDEA, while looking at all sides and taking no sides. Ideally, you should reason and not judge, think but not decide. Judging and deciding can come later by thinking one’s way through to some resolution of the conflicting answers that arise. It is your task not to achieve an overall understanding of the books but to ponder the questions raised by the great IDEA and find out how it can be useful to you in a connection that may be very far from the author’s own purpose. Sometimes before we answer the questions on the reading assignment, we view a video to get Mortimer Adler’s thinking on the great IDEA. According to Adler, the aim of these videos is firstly it should give us a surer grasp of the various meanings of the IDEA. Secondly, the portrayal with accuracy and detail of each IDEA should make us more aware of questions or issues that we cannot avoid confronting. Thirdly, in the consideration of each IDEA, we are led to the consideration of other IDEAS. That is, how does our understanding of what is good and bad carry us not only to an understanding of what is right and wrong, but also to an understanding of justice, and how does that affect our understanding of liberty and equality as well.